Detectives specialising in memorising faces and recognising suspects are leading the search for those responsible for the novichok nerve agent poisoning of the Skripals.
The officers form Scotland Yard’s specialist squad reportedly played a key role in identifying two Russian suspects who the UK authorities want to extradite from Russia, Sky News reports.
It was revealed last month that investigators think several Russians were involved in the attempted murder of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury and are looking for more than one suspect.
The pair were left fighting for their lives after they were exposed to the military-grade nerve agent in March. They have since been released from hospital.
According to reports, the specialist detectives are part of a team analysing 5,000 hours of CCTV footage and have played a “key role” in the search for the suspects.
The officers are attempting to match images of suspects filmed in Salisbury with images of airline passengers on cameras at Heathrow and other airports before and since the attack in Salisbury.
Former detective chief inspector Mick Neville, who set up the squad, told Sky News: “They have an innate skill, you can’t buy it and you can’t teach it. They have a highly unusual ability in remembering faces, whether it’s from a picture, a bit of film or someone they’ve met.
“They don’t concentrate on the obvious, the greying hair or the moustache or the glasses, they look at the eyes, the mouth, the ears, the things that don’t change. They can recognise a face from the tiniest glimpse of part of it.”
Neville said that once super recognisers scan images of people, they become “imprinted in their memory”.
Neville added that there will be a lot of material for the super recognisers to work on, with a high number of cameras around the bench where the Skripals were found.
The US said earlier this month that it would impose sanctions on Russia because it used a chemical weapon in violation of international law.
Britain has accused Russia of being behind the attack, which the Kremlin vehemently denies, and scores of Russian diplomats were expelled by western allies in response.
Two more people – Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley – were subsequently treated for exposure to novichok after Sturgess reportedly sprayed herself with a discarded perfume bottle thought to have contained the agent.
Rowley, like the Skripals, recovered from the attack but Sturgess died after spending days in intensive care.